Farmhand

a Future Where sensor Systems Are USed to inform and advise farmers.

 

Overview

This year, the Microsoft Design Expo challenged us to design for a billion sensors. After initially considering using plants as sensors for diseases and explosives, my team opted to use sensors for plants themselves. As our research and ideation progressed, we focused on helping farmers and home gardeners. Farming currently uses a limited amount of new technology, often relying on some guesswork and difficult, repetitive labor instead. Farmer’s that we talked with at farmers markets told us that they check their fields multiple times a day and use little besides your basic farm tools and machinery. These farmers face many time consuming challenges; farming issues that can be simplified into the categories of soil health, water management, and pest control.

Our team’s goal was to ease farmers’ burden by introducing a sensor system into their workflow. We created Farmhand to bring farmers and gardeners the benefits of sensors and today’s technology. While some aspects of the system may not be viable for several years, Farmhand could visualize information from sensors to alert growers and provide them with the most relevant and up-to-date information about their plants and soil.

 

 

Completed:

Winter 2014

Duration:

10 Weeks

Course:

Advanced Interaction Design

Competition:

Microsoft Design Expo

Professor:

Axel Roesler

Collaborators:

Randy Huynh | Gavia Angell | Stephanie Lin | Cheryl Wang | Nina Wei

Responsibilities:

Research | Ideation | Story | Editing | Acting

Tools:

After Effects | Photoshop | Premiere

An organic field during the winter

An organic field during the winter

Recently harvested kale

Recently harvested kale


Problem

It will be a challenge to address the needs of farmers via a plausible sensor system within this decade. Agricultural farming is large in scope and faced with ever changing conditions. Things like climate, season, weather, water, crop types, soil nutrients, and plant health all have to be taken into consideration. The most advanced means of dealing with farming issues currently is Precision Agriculture, which implements an effective sensor system, but has failed with widespread adoption.

Our team worked to design a system that addresses the needs of home gardeners, small scale farmers, and large commercial farming. We are looking to mainly utilize smart dust sensors (which are small, wireless, micro-sensors that can be placed on soil). Farmhand would take the data from these sensors to provide alerts, suggestions, and information directly to a farmer’s mobile phone or tablet.

 

 
Deciding where to film on a commercial farm

Deciding where to film on a commercial farm

Looking out on the fields

Looking out on the fields

Standing next to a tractor

Standing next to a tractor

A map of the 21 Acres farm

A map of the 21 Acres farm


Research & Development

We developed Farmhand in direct response to our research. My team interviewed a couple of plant and bioengineering researchers from the University of Washington, who suggested that we could use plants to detect volatile gases that are released when plants are attacked by pests. We decided to use this detection of volatile gases to alert farmers to pests instead of using plants themselves to detect disease or explosives. By researching farmers' needs, we were able to expand our system to consider a wider range of problems.

In order for farming to be successful, farmers need to be able to monitor their plants and schedule around seasons and plant growth cycles. We developed multiple stories to help tackle farming issues. Our stories evolved from a single farmer to growers in three separate locations, using Farmhand to address three different problems. The video for our project became Farmhand's primary selling point, and any added interface work was used to visualize alerts or information for growers on their mobile devices.

 

 
Storyboard sketch of a farmer's field

Storyboard sketch of a farmer's field

Storyboard sketch showing a farmer checking soil nutrients

Storyboard sketch showing a farmer checking soil nutrients

Moodboard

Moodboard

Early interface design showing a map of detected problems

Early interface design showing a map of detected problems

Brainstorming Ideas

Brainstorming Ideas

Early interface design showing plant health issues

Early interface design showing plant health issues


Solution

Farmhand is a prototype with the potential to improve future farming practices. Its sensor system evolved from embedded irrigation lines to hundreds of smart dust sensors spread around farmers' crops. With Farmhand, the user is presented with only the most relevant information and concerns, although past data may be viewed through the interface’s sub-levels. Farmhand intends to make the lives of growers easier and save them from guesswork and time consuming activities.

Features

Soil Health

Monitors nutrient levels in the soil and suggests where and when farmers could apply compost or fertilizer. Alerts farmers to areas affected by contaminants or runoff. Suggests ways for farmers to improve soil quality.

Water Management

Lets farmers know when they're using too much water, leeching soil nutrients through runoff, or experiencing drought.

Pest Control

Alerts farmers to the presence of pests and how best to target infected areas without damaging the environment.

Scheduling

Informs farmers about what crops to plant based on climate and season. Suggests ways for farmers to rotate their crops or plan for changes in weather.

Sensors

Our system uses an ion selective electrode sensor to detect soil nutrients, a frequency domain sensor to measure soil moisture, and biosensor receptors to detect volatile gases and pest attacks.

 

Soil Health

Soil Health

Water Management

Water Management

Pest Control

Pest Control